ST. GEORGE ISLAND, Fla. (AP) - Parts of the main interstate highway across northern Florida were closed by flooding Tuesday as Tropical Storm Debby hung stubbornly offshore over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening up to two feet of rain in places.
After raking Florida's Gulf coast with high winds and heavy rain, Debby promised to bring more of the same in the coming days as it drifted on a path forecast to take it over the state and east into the Atlantic by Friday.
The National Hurricane Center said Debby was about 85 miles west of Cedar Key, Fla., and moving eastward near 3 mph. It had maximum sustained winds near 45 mph, barely tropical-storm status.
But the wind, high surf and relentless rain have made the storm's presence felt.
The Florida Highway Patrol closed portions of Interstate 10 in north Florida early Tuesday due to flooding caused by rain. Troopers reported several areas of flooding on a roughly 50-mile stretch of the east-west interstate east of where it crosses I-75 and the agency warned motorists to use extreme caution on other parts of the highway.
South of that stretch of I-10, four puppies and a young dog drowned when a swollen creek flooded an animal shelter in the city of Starke. The Florida Times-Union reported that officials placed sandbags and dug trenches outside to protect the shelter, but the water rose quickly Sunday night.
Farther south, in the Tampa Bay area, roads such as Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard were washed out. Residents tried to salvage belongings from flooded homes in low-lying areas. At one point Monday, high winds and flooding concerns prompted authorities to close two major routes over Tampa Bay into St. Petersburg.
A mother manatee was found dead in the water Tuesday off Bayshore Boulevard. Her two calves, which were still alive, washed ashore along the flooded road which runs along Tampa Bay. Members of the Tampa Police Marine Patrol called Lowry Park Zoo and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to help with the rescue of the baby manatees.
Forecasters were expecting the rains to continue, bringing another 4 to 8 inches across northern Florida. The storm could also bring up to 10 inches of rain to the Brunswick area in southeastern Georgia, forecasters said.
Torrential rains and flooding would continue across parts of the Florida Panhandle and northern Florida for several days, even though the storm wasn't expected to gain strength.
"The widespread flooding is the biggest concern," said Florida Emergency Operations Center spokeswoman Julie Roberts. "It's a concern that Debby is going to be around for the next couple of days, and while it sits there, it's going to continue to drop rain. The longer it sits, the more rain we get."
At least one person was killed Sunday by a tornado spun off by the large storm system.
WFLA-TV reported that a young mother, Heather Town, died Sunday when her Highlands County home was lifted off its foundation and she and her baby girl were thrown into nearby woods. The mother was found clutching the child, who survived.